Thursday, May 26, 2011

Barnes & Noble's New Nook: DOA

Okay, maybe I slightly exaggerate in the title (DOA stands for "dead on arrival"). The new version of Barnes & Noble's Nook e-reader looks very nice! It was just announced yesterday and set to debut at a variety of retailers for $139 on June 10th.

First let's analyze the things to like about the new Nook (although I have yet to see one for myself). The biggest change is the full-screen touchscreen instead of the divided screen used in the previous iteration. Although the new screen will just be monotone, I feel like readers everywhere will prefer to focus their attention on a single screen instead of two. Engadget's hands-on commentator noted positively on the screen's quality and responsiveness (description also includes "sexy", "incredibly light and thin"). The second major change is the color of the device -- out is the cheap-looking white and in is the better looking black. It's a sensible change given the effect it has compared to the screen: the white makes the contrast of the e-ink somewhat lacking. Last but not least is the bragged about battery life of the new Nook (Nook 2?). Some thrash talking by B&N is already in order against Amazon and its Kindle apparently; the new Nook is said to have 2 months of battery life on a single charge.

The good things aside, it's time to face the reality surrounding e-ink devices. The new Nook may be the best reader when it is released, but its price point and lack of versatility will severely hinder its sales. This is what I foresee. Although e-readers are becoming more popular and e-book sales are growing by leaps and bounds, a little more research will reveal that the recent sales jump is attributable to the introduction of new tablets. Apple's iPad is (unsurprisingly) the main perpetrator thus far, but Android devices are also set to make a big splash. In the end, my prediction is the result of common sense and logical reasoning: why would the average customer fork $139 for a device limited to reading documents? (Yes it can do PDFs too but that looks like a gimmick). The market for e-readers is a niche market and I believe it is becoming quickly saturated.

Proponents of e-readers argue for the devices' eye-strain reduction capabilities when compared to the standard LCD screen. It is the biggest the draw to purchase an e-reader: the ability to read a screen as if it were paper. But the technology itself is still nascent -- namely the monotone limitation. The much-touted "Mirasol" screen technology that allows affordable color e-ink screen is still a year or two from being commercial-ready. By that time, tablets would have replaced e-readers altogether. I strongly believe the combination of superior processing power and greater flexibility of the tablet makes them the go-to option for the average consumer. Only voracious readers (5-10% of the market) would have a clear preference for the e-reader.

My points being made, the new Nook looks like a great product for Barnes & Noble. It should gain considerable traction in the marketplace before the onslaught of Android and new iOS tablets take full effect. For one, it is a much better option than the Amazon Kindle.

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